Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced in October the establishment of a "Task Force on Constitutional Development", which will launch public consultations on reforms for the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in 2016 and the Chief Executive (CE) election in 2017. The people of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are expected to experience their "constitutional moment" next year when the shape of the future political system of Hong Kong will be decided.
Li Fei, Chairman of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Basic Law Committee, addresses a luncheon in Hong Kong, south China, Nov 22, 2013. [Photo / Xinhua]
Hong Kong's Basic Law, which not only regulates the relationship between the SAR and the central government in Beijing but also provides for the formation and operation of the Hong Kong government, stipulates that the ultimate aim in the evolution of Hong Kong's political system is the election of the CE and of all members of LegCo by universal suffrage. In December 2007, the National People's Congress Standing Committee set the timetable for the realization of this ultimate aim: the CE may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, and thereafter the whole of LegCo may also be so elected.
It is important to note, however, that the NPC Standing Committee's 2007 decision does not automatically mean that the CE will definitely be elected by universal suffrage in 2017.
According to Annex I to the Basic Law and its interpretation by the NPC Standing Committee in 2004, any reform of the electoral method for the CE can only be initiated with the consent of the NPC Standing Committee, and the basic features of the reform- which have to be proposed by the Hong Kong government - must win the support of two-thirds of the members of LegCo before the reform can go through. This means that whether universal suffrage for the CE election in 2017 will be realized or not depends ultimately on the collective will of the central government, the SAR government and the people of Hong Kong as represented by LegCo.
It is widely accepted that Hong Kong residents want to exercise the right to elect the CE directly by 2017. Given that the NPC Standing Committee has already decided that 2017 is the target year for the introduction of universal suffrage, why is there still uncertainty on whether it will materialize? The answer lies in the constitutional requirement of two-thirds majority in LegCo and the spectrum of existing political forces in Hong Kong, which includes "pro-establishment" parties and figures as well as what is commonly known as "pan-democrats" or "the opposition".